Connecting Metro Rail to Los Angeles International Airport: here is a look at issues currently on the table

With the Crenshaw/LAX Line getting closer to construction in 2014, I wanted to address a specific issue involving the project: how the Metro Rail system will eventually connect to the terminals at Los Angeles International Airport.

I also wanted to address a related notion floating around in the buzz-o-sphere that the Crenshaw/LAX Line should be delayed and redesigned to travel closer to the airport.

I’ve broken up the post into three sections to make it digestible because, quite frankly, some of it is unavoidably wonky and bureaucratic. I know there are many people interested in the question of running trains all the way to the airport terminals; please see the last section of this post.

THE BASICS

140207_map_project_crenshawlax_eng

The Crenshaw/LAX Line is a light rail project that will run for 8.5 miles between the Expo Line and the Green Line, as the map shows. The project includes an elevated station at the intersection of Aviation and Century boulevards, about 1.3 miles east of Terminal 1 at LAX. The new station is a bit closer to terminals than the Green Line’s Aviation station (at Imperial Highway), which is two miles from Terminal 1.

The Airport Metro Connector is in the planning stages and will connect the Crenshaw/LAX Line and the Green Line to the airport terminals via either a light rail line or an automated people mover (APM) — or a combination of those. Funding will likely come from both Metro and Los Angeles World Airports, the city of L.A. agency that runs LAX. Here are the six alternatives under study (larger versions of each are at the end of this post):

130901 Alternatives Large Maps

Click above to see larger.

The main issue that everyone needs to understand: The Crenshaw/LAX Line has a station on the western side of Aviation at Century. It is environmentally cleared and set to be built.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles World Airports has recommended building a people mover station on the east side of the intersection of Aviation and 98th. An elevated block-long walkway would connect the light rail station and the people mover, requiring a trip up and down stairs or an elevator trip for those transferring (rendering below).

staff recommendation for spas.

Source: Los Angeles World Airports.

Source: Los Angeles World Airports.

Los Angeles World Airports has also proposed two other locations where light rail stations could be built for a more direct transfer to the people mover (see below). One is on 98th Street between Sepulveda and Aviation boulevards at the airport’s proposed Intermodal Transportation Facility (known as the ‘ITF’), a hub the airport says that would include buses, light rail and the people mover and include remote check-in and a commercial component. The other possible station location is underground near the entrance to horseshoe road that serves the airport’s terminals.

Metro Map

Source: Los Angeles World Airports.

All three potential light rail station locations have something in common: people using light rail to reach the airport would still have to transfer to a people mover to get to the terminals. Airport officials say that the people mover may include secure vehicles to carry those who have already checked in at the ITF and non-secure vehicles for those who still must check-in at the existing terminal areas.

The dilemma for Metro is that reaching any of three proposed locations for light rail at the airport requires moving the Crenshaw/LAX Line to the west or building a rail spur from the Crenshaw/LAX Line. Moving the Crenshaw/LAX Line would cost a minimum of $600 million, according to Metro. That is much more than the $200 million Measure R has allocated for the Airport Connector project. Funding for filling that gap would have to be found — no easy task — and the airport has not yet committed to any amount of funding.

In addition, moving the Crenshaw/LAX Line would, at best, cause major delays to the project (it is currently forecast to be completed in 2019). Delays could in turn risk funding for the project.

There is another problem. The airport has yet to give the final green light to the people mover project while litigation over a proposal by LAX to move its north runway further north is resolved. Metro, of course, does not want to move the Crenshaw/LAX Line or build a rail spur with no guarantee at this time that the people mover or any other facility will be built.

PROJECT HISTORY

In order to understand how we’ve reached this point, it helps to understand the history of the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the Airport Metro Connector and LAWA’s modernization plans for the airport. In chronological order:

•Metro and its predecessor agencies in Los Angeles County first studied a north-south transit line that would focus on serving the area along or near Crenshaw Boulevard in 1967 as part of a regional transit plan. Over the years, some of the studies have included direct transit connections to the airport. Others have not. Here’s a good history of the studies.

•In the early 1990s, Metro had an approved environmental study to connect the Green Line to LAX. Due to an inability to receive approval from LAWA or the Federal Aviation Administration for the line, funds were moved to other projects and the connection was never built.

•In 2001, Los Angeles World Airports released a draft of the second phase of its Master Plan that included two people movers to connect the airport terminals and other existing and planned airport facilities. One people mover was planned to go east along Century Boulevard (which connects the 405 freeway to the airport) and another would have traveled south to the Green Line.

013_MainDocument_Ch_2.04

The second phase of the Master Plan was challenged in court by several groups — including nearby homeowners. In 2006 the airport settled and agreed that with further study it could pursue some elements from the Master Plan, including the people mover. Those would be studied as part of a Specific Plan Amendment Study, known as SPAS.

•In 2007, the studies for the Crenshaw project began. The following year, voters in Los Angeles County approved the half-cent sales tax increase known as Measure R. The spending plan for Measure R included $1.7 billion for the Crenshaw project and another $200 million for a Green Line Extension to the airport, a project that was later renamed the Airport Metro Connector.

•In 2011, the Metro Board of Directors gave their final approval of the route Crenshaw/LAX Line, including a station at Century and Aviation. No city or airport officials protested or testified against the route along Aviation Boulevard during the previous four years of study, which included several Board votes on alternatives and routes.

•Formal studies for the Airport Metro Connector began in 2010 in consultation with Los Angeles World Airports. An Alternatives Analysis (AA) was completed in April 2012. The AA proposed six alternatives shown above that should be studied more extensively in a draft environmental impact report.

•In Dec. 2012, Los Angeles World Airports released its staff recommendation for its Specific Plan Amendment Study (known as SPAS) on projects from the old master plan it wanted to pursue. LAWA staff recommended building a single people mover that would travel along 98th Street, stop at the ITF and then continue to a people mover station to connect to Metro’s station at Aviation and Century and, ultimately, to Manchester Square.

GOING FORWARD

The Metro Board of Directors approved the contract to build the Crenshaw/LAX Line in June. In early September, the agency gave the go-ahead to its contractor to begin design/build work with the expectation that heavy construction will begin in 2014.

The Airport Metro Connector project, meanwhile, has begun work on the project’s initial planning and is waiting to begin its draft environmental impact study. Metro staff is working to understand performance characteristics and estimate ridership and costs for each of the six alternatives under study. Some preliminary results will be presented to the Metro Board of Directors this month. Work will continue through 2014.

It remains to be seen whether alternatives that would bring light rail all the way to the airport terminals via tunnels are economically and politically viable and whether LAWA wants Metro to pursue them.

Metro would need LAWA’s permission to build anything on, above or below airport property. At a Los Angeles City Council committee meeting on Wednesday, airport officials said bringing light rail into the terminal area was challenging for several reasons: security, lack of customer baggage racks in light rail vehicles, trains couldn’t run more often than every five minutes (versus 90 seconds to 120 seconds for a people mover), tunneling near or under terminals was risky and building rail above ground would be difficult because of existing structures. 

Metro officials continue to work with LAWA’s planning staff. The Airport Metro Connector is scheduled to be complete in 2028 in Metro’s Long Range Transportation Plan, although the Metro Board of Directors have expressed a desire to advance that date, if possible. Funding will be a factor; in most cases in the U.S., airports contribute to the cost of connecting to rail lines. See Attachment A of this report.

Obviously this is a big issue for our region. As one business official said at the Council committee meeting on Wednesday, a transit station at LAX will be heavily scrutinized. That’s absolutely right. And it remains clear some big decisions remain ahead.

Here are larger versions of the six alternatives under study by Metro:

130813 Alt A

130813 Alt B

130813 Alt C1

130813 Alt C2

130813 Alt C3

130813 Alt C4

62 replies

  1. For skeptics who say light rail isn’t going to cut it LAX and that only heavy rail works and provide examples like Chicago and Amsterdam, I raise you all Tokyo Haneda.

    Tokyo Haneda outranks LAX in terms of passenger volume. As of 2013, Tokyo Haneda is the world’s 5th busiest airport in the world while LAX is the 6th. In comparison, O’Hare is 6th and Amsterdam is way down at #18.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World's_busiest_airports_by_passenger_traffic#2013_statistics_.28partial_year.29

    And what is the main transit that goes to Tokyo Haneda? The Tokyo Monorail. Yes, a friggin’ MONORAIL.
    http://www.tokyo-monorail.co.jp/english/

    It’s a five car monorail that was built in for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Tokyo Haneda used to be Tokyo’s gateway to the world until the opening of Tokyo Narita. Haneda then became Tokyo’s domestic airport, which even then had one of the world’s highest passenger volumes. Recently, Haneda just started opening up to international services again, and two airlines Delta and All Nippon Airways have direct LAX to Haneda flights today.

    So let’s see, you have a monorail that is able to serve the world’s 5th busiest airport in the world which even outranks LAX. I think that kinda silence out the critics now wouldn’t it?

    Besides, it’s kinda pitiful that the world’s 6th largest airport in the world LAX, has absolute zero mass transit options serving that airport. No wonder everyone sees LA as a third world nation. The moment they arrive, they see the horrendous traffic like we’re a backward nation!

  2. A couple of additional comments to other comments. My suggestion for heavy rail line from Sylmar to LAX would be a full subway and go though the mountain on direct route to ether Century City or Westwood where it would connect with the Purple Line and, not over it as the Red Line does to North Hollywood.

    LAX is a major hub and if you are transferring planes Ontario will not work very well. Only if you are living in the Inland Empire does Ontario work well. At present there is no train service to the airport and and the service that passes the airport is several hours between trains with even less service on weekends and evenings. . ..

  3. You say “all three potential light rail station locations have something in common: people using light rail to reach the airport would still have to transfer to a people mover to get to the terminals.” That’s because the potential light rail stations are in locations far away from the terminals, a precept that reflects LAWA’s and Metro’s fixation with the current inadequate plans.

    Light rail could be built on pylons over World Way in a loop, with stops at Terminals 1/2, 3/Bradley, 4/5 and 7/8. If needed, a return loop and train holding area could be built east of the horseshoe for operational purposes.

    LAX could use the same pylons and stations for a parallel loop people mover. Could you imagine leaving a terminal to a platform with trains to LA to the left, and trains to the parking lots, cellphone pickup and car rental to the right?

    The fundamental problem for decades has been Metro or is predecessors viewing LAX as an obstacle to be circumvented, rather than a destination to be served.

    LAX needs to interface with transit. That means bringing transit onto the airport loop.

  4. The people mover doesn’t need to be built so expensively with taxpayer dollars that it has to be a loop making stops at all the terminals in the World Way loop.

    Why not just have three underground stations going right through the middle of World Way just like this:
    http://i.imgur.com/WfMkZGl.jpg

    Station 1 can serve Terminals 1, 7 and 8 on boths sides
    Station 2 can serve Terminal 2, 5, 6, on both sides as well as the Theme Bldg.
    Station 3 can serve Terminals 3 and 4 on both sides as well as the western TBIT

    You don’t need multiple stations making stops at all terminals if they are all within short walking distance from each other. London Underground does exactly that with their Underground where one station serves Terminals 1,2, and 3.
    http://www.heathrowairport.com/static/Heathrow/Images/Content_images/LHR_Train_Map.gif

    Besides, has anyone thought that if it were to be built in a loop, they need to make the loop bidirectional and the cost of doing so? You can’t have just one train going from Terminal 1 looping to Terminal 8. You also need another one going in the opposite direction from Terminal 8 to Terminal 1.

    This is the biggest pain in the butt at LAX today with car traffic going all in one direction. A lot of travelers have to have to make connections at LAX, and sometimes those connections involve going to different terminals. So if a person flies in on United at Terminal 8 and has a flight on Asiana to catch a TBIT, what good will a unidirectional people mover going to do of the people mover only goes in one direction from Metro Station…Terminals 1….TBIT….Terminal 8…Metro Station? It’s a total waste of time for that person making a transfer when it can be a bidirectional one that also goes Terminal 8…TBIT.

  5. Pipe dreams, all of them. Each and every single person commenting on this story will either be dead or collecting what’s left of Social Security by the time any of this is implemented or realized. Los Angeles, in terms of rail, is at least a quarter century behind where it should be, and at least a half century behind where it could’ve been.

    I just think it’s all a bit too late to be doing any of this now when it should’ve been done decades ago BEFORE sprawl. It’s so bad here that it makes me actually want to do something I haven’t done since 1996…drive a car. THAT’S how much I despise LACMTA.

    • oneworld alliance on October 14, 2013 at 10:20 AM said:
      “The people mover doesn’t need to be built so expensively with taxpayer dollars that it has to be a loop making stops at all the terminals in the World Way loop.”

      A Never Stop Railway would not be expensive, on pylons out of the way of traffic, but providing good services to all termini. And note that I did say there should be a second loop service only the terminals but running in the opposite direction.

  6. Please do not play this off as a dispute between Metro and the airports agency. Both agencies are primarily subordinate to the mayor of Los Angeles, and he should demand that ALL of his employees cooperate.

    The mayor of Los Angeles and 3 of his appointees are members of Metro’s board of directors. The mayor selects or nominates both the general manager of the airports department, and each member of the airport board of commissioners. Unless Mayor Garcetti and his 3 appointees are outvoted by their fellow Metro directors, Mayor Garcetti should solve the problem.

  7. Concerning the last post and Mayor Garcetti. Back when both RTD and LACTC existed both agencies had the same board members. As the RTD board they would request money from the LACTC for a project and then the same members would vote no as LACTC members. It was a total joke.

    So what eventually happen? They merged the two agencies and for a time not only did the employees from the two agencies not talk with one another but the former LACTC employees refused to move into the new MTA office building adjacent to Union Station although there was ample room for them.